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The end: the NLEX Road Warriors are back-to-back champions

Mia Domingo

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The NLEX Road Warriors win the 2011 PBA D-League Aspirants Cup championship sweeping challenger Freego Jeans.

The NLEX Road Warriors successfully defended their crown – 89-75 in Game 2, over neophyte finalist Freego Jeans in the 2011-2012 PBA D-League Aspirants Cup.  The moment the Road Warriors sparked a 9-0 blast at the opening of the third period, they never looked back.

Uphill battle

It was not the kind of beginning the Road Warriors wanted. Freego Jeans played the game of their lives in the first half buoyed by the triumvirate of Eric Camson, Alex Nuyles and Lester Alvarez.

Nuyles led a 16-4 spurt which found Freego ahead by nine – 43-34, under two minutes left before the intermission.

NLEX did not get the usual numbers they expected from 2010 UAAP MVP Ryan Roose Garcia after he lost the Best Player of the Conference Award to Cebuana Lhuillier’s Vic Manuel. The announcement of the coveted individual award happened a few minutes before tip-off.

Great expectations

Garcia regained his composure and mental consciousness at the half and opened up the third canto with a long distance connection. The same basket ignited the Road Warriors’ blistering run that gave them the lead back – 50-45, within three minutes.  Garcia was still off though so Team Sinag Pilipinas guard Chris Ellis took charge. He scattered ten points in that third period stretch that placed the Road Warriors in the driver’s seat.

Ellis and power forward Cliff Hodge played possessed basketball. In one sequence, Hodge swatted the ball three times – disrupting Freego’s offense. He had six monster blocks across his name alongside 15 points and 17 rebounds.  Another Ellis highlight saw him receive the leather from the shaded area then take off five steps away from the basket for a backboard-rattling slam late in the third.

Hodge led the Road Warriors and they never gave an inch in the fourth quarter.  They extended their lead to its widest at 14 – 83-69 with three minutes remaining in play. NLEX enjoyed several 14-point cushions down the stretch.

Always a bridesmaid

Eric James Camson paced Freego with 24 markers while Lester Alvarez, John Lopez and Alex Nuyles added 15, 14 and 12 respectively.

On his end, Freego’s coach Leo Austria had this to say, “Its overwhelming to know that even if we weren’t able to win the title or even against NLEX, na-earn namin yung respect from them. It was hard to beat NLEX because they respect us a lot.”

He added, “Our goal when we joined the league was to develop our players. Kinulang lang kami sa firepower. Due to their swarming defense, lahat ng ginagawa namin, nadedeny nila. Ang laki ng adjustments namin going into game 2, pero kulang padin. Actually, ang off the bench players nila, mas malakas pa sa first five nila.”

He later joked about being ‘bridesmaids’ again. “Binigyan nga kami ng bonus e, kasi para nadin kami nagchampion, kasi yung start ng season, 2nd place ang pinaguusapan dahil given nadin na NLEX pa rin sa huli.”

Lovelier the second time around

The Road Warriors prevailed at the finish line. Ellis topped the scorers from NLEX with 20 markers, three rebounds and two assists while NCAA MVP Calvin “The Beast” Abueva, who fouled out of the game had 17 points across his name alongside twelve rebounds.

NLEX coach Boyet Fernandez had a memorable soundbyte on the win: “The first championship at the Foundation Cup is sweeter but this is lovely. We encountered a lot of problems at the start of the Aspirants Cup. There’s the conflict of schedule with the players, injuries. Pero masarap yung feeling na naovercome namin lahat yun dahil na din sa support ng management at tiwala.”  He added, “Coach Leo had a box of tricks. The way they played nung 1st half, hats off kami sa Freego. They had a good game plan, good thing we adjusted very well in the 2nd half.”

The story of the Road Warriors’ much-anticipated repeat comes with a happy ending – and greater expectations in the next conference. –


Box Scores:

North Luzon Expressway (89) — Ellis 20, Abueva 17, Hodge 15, Lanete 9, Monfort 8, Garcia 8, Sangalang 6, Dehesa 3, Co 3, Marcelo 2, Belencion 0, Hermida 0.

Freego Jeans (75) — Camson 24, Alvarez 15, Lopez 14, Nuyles 12, Apinan 5, Brondial 2, Cabrera 2, Austria 1, Lozada 0, Manyara 0.

Quarter Scores: 18-22, 41-45, 65-58, 89-75.

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